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Do Ants Have Eyes? How Ants See the World

Do ants have eyes? Yes, they do! 

Ants are able to see the world with their compound eyes and ocelli. The two large compound eyes allow them to see and navigate, while the three smaller simple eyes (ocelli) assist in navigating relative to prior positions.

Generally speaking, ants can’t see very well though.

5 Things You Didn't Know About Ants x
5 Things You Didn't Know About Ants

Read more about the vision of ants, and how they see the world, in this article.

Do Ants Have Eyes?

Ants do have eyes, two compound eyes, and three simple eyes. The two compound eyes, which are the ones primarily used, are made up of hundreds of individual units called ommatidia. The size and shape of their eyes differ depending on the species. 

When it comes to eyesight, ants don’t see very well. Their small size has caused their eyes to lack clarity. They live in a very blurry world. The more ommatidia they have, the better they can see.

In most ants, each compound eye includes around 650 ommatidia while the smallest ant species have fewer than 150 units in their single eyes. The size of the ant directly relates to the number of ommatidia they have.

Ants also have three “simple eyes”, known as ocelli. 

ant close up capture

While the purpose of the ocelli isn’t fully known yet, it’s believed that they serve as a form of compass. They need information from the compound eyes to serve a purpose but can help ants find their way back from where they came.

Read more about the anatomy of ants.

How Many Eyes Do Ants Have

Ants have 2 or 5 eyes. All ants have two large compound eyes that look like black dots with thousands of tiny lenses in them called ommatidia (plural for ommatidium). Some ants also have three small simple eyes called ocelli.

How Ant Eyes Are Built

Ants have two large compound eyes and a triangle of three small simple eyes called ocelli [1]. They do not see colors but do detect ultraviolet light as well as polarized sunlight which is useful for navigation on cloudy days. 

The compound eyes are made up of little lenses called ommatidia. Ants have between 150-650 ommatidia in each eye, depending on their size.

The more ommatidia, the sharper their vision is.

Ants use their two compound eyes to estimate distance and size by comparing where an object appears relative to its background using both eyes. 

The brain compares the information from both eyes and corrects for any difference between them to produce a single image with depth, allowing ants to do things like jumping without overstepping their bounds.

ant-body-composition-2

How Many Ommatidia Do Ants Have?

The compound eyes have between 150 to 650 ommatidia in each. This means that smaller ants will likely have fewer ommatidia than larger ones.

Ants do not have particularly great eyesight, but they do rely on it to get around. This also means that they have to get very close to the object, to determine exactly what it is.

How Do Ants See the World?

Ants see the world as one big blur. Anything farther than 1-3 feet won’t be in focus. They don’t have good eyesight and can’t rely as much on their eyes when it comes to exploration. They rely more on chemoreception (chemical senses) and mechanoreception (physical contact). 

Compared to humans, ants have a very different view of the world. Their eyes work very uniquely, and are not as advanced as ours. 

Studies also show that nocturnal ant’s have evolved night-vision. Since they’re mostly active at night, they’ve developed the ability to see in the darkness. [2]

Ants do not see much detail but can detect sudden movements quickly. This is due to their many ommatidia. They can’t see far away, but they can easily detect movement around them.

carpenter ants active at night

Ant Vision vs Human Vision

Insects do not have color vision, but they do perceive light and dark. Ants see the world through their compound eyes: two large structures made of thousands of tiny lenses (ommatidia) that can discern movement and some detail. 

The ommatidium is a multi-faceted eye; each lens looks at a small part of the environment. These many small images are combined to paint a complete picture of their surroundings. 

It’s like each ommatidium is its own pixel. 

The color-blindness comes from the way their brain processes all these light signals; it can’t put together colors or hues.

human eyes

Do Ants See Humans?

Ants can see humans, but they don’t know what we are. 

Their brains aren’t developed enough to conceptualize the existence of humans, and they can’t recognize what we are. 

When seeing a person, they’ll most likely react with the same defensive behaviors as if it was a dangerous animal. 

If you’re standing farther than 5 feet away, the ant’s most likely won’t even notice you, as this is out of their range of sight. You’ll be blurry and look like any other object.

When you then decide to move, the ants will notice you, and will either scatter (if you pose a threat), or simply continue their work (if they see you as a neutral object).

ant big round eyes

If an ant happens upon something foreign in its territory like a human foot, for example, they will tend to bite and release a chemical that alerts the colony of an intruder. 

If you do happen to get bitten by an ant, do not reach for your insecticide or ant spray – ants do this as self-defense only; they don’t intend to harm us, but rather protect themselves.

Topic you may also like: Are Ants Afraid of Humans?

How Do Ants See?

Ants see with their compound eyes and use their ocelli for better navigation. The compound eyes serve just like human eyes, to see the world around us, and to navigate around other objects.

The ocelli are used as a form of compass.

trail of ants

When ants are foraging, they’ll run along different paths, leading them farther and farther away from their colony. With their ocelli (which receives information through the compound eyes as well), they can backtrack their steps.

A study showed, that if an ant was blindfolded, only to rely on its ocelli, it was able to travel the exact opposite direction relative to where it came from. [3]

Now for nocturnal species, ants that do their main activities at night, it’s a different story. Some of these nocturnal species are able to see in the dark, which helps them forage and avoid predators when the sun disappears.

Do Ants Have Good Eyesight?

Ants do not have good eyesight. Most of the world is a blur. Ants also can’t see color, but mostly differentiate between light and dark.

Most ants do not see very well. They have poor eyesight because of the number of ommatidia that they possess. Compared to other insects, ants are in the lower bracket when it comes to vision. Bees, for example, have very great eyesight.

When it comes to ants, the smaller the body is, the fewer ommatidia it possesses, and the worse its eyesight is.

black ant

Are Ants Blind?

No, ants aren’t blind. They do not see as well as we do, but they do have eyes.

Read more on this topic: Are ants blind?

Can Ants See Color?

Ants do not see the world in color. They can see a few but rely mostly on contrasts between light and dark.

Are Ants Colorblind?

Ants do not have color vision and are red-green blind (able to detect only yellow and blue). However, their ability to distinguish between contrast levels is greater than that of humans. 

They can also differentiate ultraviolet light which helps them find food.

carpenter ants eating

Conclusion

Ants do have eyes, but they can’t see very well. Most of their world is a blur. The smaller an ant is, the fewer ommatidia (lenses) they have as well, making their eyesight even worse.

Ants also have three simple eyes, called ocelli. These are used for navigation and work a little like a compass. Ants use these to find their way back when foraging.

When it comes to color, ants can see very few of these, relying mostly on contrasts between light and dark.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.